High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition where the pressure of the blood flowing through the arteries is higher than normal. This elevated level of pressure can lead to many risks throughout the body and can lead to the disruption of many processes and can ultimately increase the risk of many conditions such as coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, vision loss and chronic kidney disease.
Blood pressure is assessed using two parameters -- the systolic and diastolic pressures -- which measure, respectively, the maximum pressure exerted in the arteries as the heart contracts, and the minimum pressure in those vessels between cardiac contractions. In adults, blood pressure is considered normal if the top number (systolic pressure) is between 90 and 120 and the bottom number (diastolic) is between 60 and 80.
Hypertension causes complications such as heart attack and stroke, and these complications are less likely to occur in women who have undergone menopause than men of the same age. When comparing the complication risks of hypertension between men and women aged between 40 and 70 years, it is seen that men are at a higher risk of developing complications than women.
The reason why people with blood pressure readings in this range should lower it, even though this is not classified as 'high' blood pressure, is that the higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of health problems. For example, someone with a blood pressure level of 135 over 85 (135/85) is twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as someone with a reading of 115 over 75 (115/75).
James, P.A., Oparil, S., Carter, B.L., Cushman, W.C., Dennison-Himmelfarb, C., Handler, J., & Ortiz, E. (2013, December 18). 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: Report from the panel members appointed to the eighth joint national committee. Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
The American Heart Association, or AHA, explains that the early symptoms of high blood pressure that people tend to think about are largely mythical. You are unlikely to notice “classic” signs such as anxiety, insomnia, or flushing in your face. You could have blood spots in your eyes due to subconjunctival hemorrhage, but dizziness itself is not among the essential symptoms of high blood pressure.
While the words “blood pressure-lowering diet” may conjure images of unseasoned egg whites and limp steamed veggies, getting your blood pressure into a healthy range is more than just doable —it can be downright delicious. Start by adding the Eat This, Not That!-approved list of blood pressure-lowering foods into your regular routine and watch your numbers go from scary to stellar in no time.
A blood pressure reading measures both the systolic and diastolic forces, with the systolic pressure listed first. The numbers show your pressure in units of millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)—how high the pressure inside your arteries would be able to raise a column of mercury. For example, a reading of 120/80 mm Hg means a systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg and diastolic pressure of 80 mm Hg.
Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018;71(19):e127-e248. PMID: 29146535 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29146535.
Reduce processed sugar and refined carbohydrates. Many studies have shown a link between high blood pressure and processed sugar. Even moderate amounts of sugar can raise blood pressure. For example, during the Framingham Women’s Health Study, women who drank as little as one soda per day had higher blood pressure than women who drank less. It’s not just sweet sugar that raises blood pressure. Refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta, covert to sugar quickly when they’re eaten, and they may also cause blood pressure to rise. There is evidence that reducing refined sugar intake can lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to make changes to your diet or if you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to consider working with a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN). Some people work with an RDN if they have a health condition like type 2 diabetes. In fact, high blood pressure is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. This is partly because they share similar modifiable risk factors, like being overweight or obese, following an unhealthy diet, and having a lack of physical activity.
If your blood pressure is always on the low side and you do not have any of the above symptoms, there is usually no cause for concern. Similarly, if you have a single at-home blood pressure reading that is abnormally low without any symptoms, you probably do not need to see your doctor. It is normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall over time, and your body is usually able to get your blood pressure back to normal.
Your total blood pressure reading is determined by measuring your systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Systolic blood pressure, the top number, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries each time it beats. Diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries in between beats.